AS A CULTURE, we demand the basic human rights of freedom from violence, oppression, physical threat, and discrimination. Unfortunately, we somehow fail to include children as a part of humanity.

It seems apparent that many of us are seemingly imprinted with the notion that children should be treated in a less respectful manner than other human beings. As a matter of fact, even some egalitarian and existential positions still fail to include children as a part of their philosophy.Many of us find it extremely difficult to entertain the notion that children should be granted the same basic human rights that we demand for ourselves. This type of thinking predominates in spite of the fact that it would seem logical to grant children a greater leniency and tolerance with regard to their daily behavior. In light of the innocence of children, and their lack of understanding or knowledge as to how they should behave according to our culturally defined expectations, one would think that we would be less punitive toward children than we are toward ourselves on a daily basis. While they can be excused as novice students in the way of cultural expectations and the ways of the world, we adults, on the other hand, have no such justification for not following the rules of society. Yet, we adults demand that we not even be threatened with treatments of a violent nature, which I should add, includes hitting, swats, whacks, taps, smacks, or spankings. Even our most murderous adult prisoners are legally protected from corporal punishment as a means of routine discipline.It seems to me that if anyone is deserving of physical pain as a means of punishment, it should be us adults rather than children. After all, we should already know the rules of society, while children are still trying to learn what’s expected of them. Of course, I am not suggesting that anyone should be subjected to physical pain. But, when we find ourselves forced to suffer punitive physical pain, we consider such treatment to be inhumane, cruel and unusual punishment, abusive treatment, and even torture in some cases. While many will support the idea of children being hit as a punitive measure, these are often the same people who will cry foul should they themselves ever be accosted for the same reasons.Some people find it difficult to conceptualize a more esteemed view of our young. This prejudicial attitude stands as the major obstacle in the way of children becoming viewed as sufficiently worthy of being considered viable members of the human race along with the rest of us. Until we put such thinking behind us, it would seem fruitless to propose that we expand our definition of “fairness” to include children under the umbrella of treatments we consider for ourselves to be fair, just, and humane.I don’t believe any of us would deny the wisdom and humanity offered by the Christian tenet, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Most of us like that idea when it comes to interacting with other adults. But, we all pretty much know that when it comes to treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated, most of us exclude children as being people or “others”.

There was a time in our history when “we the people” also excluded slaves, women, Native Americans, and immigrant groups as well as children. Well, times have certainly changed, and we can look with pride at the social progress we’ve achieved over the years in developing a greater degree of social sophistication. As evidence of this fact, we can point to the just fairness we’ve come to show toward minorities and women by affording them the same protections under the law, which had been previously enjoyed exclusively by white men.

It seems to me that if we are to remain on our path toward making continued strides in our social progress, a logical issue to now address should include one of our last remaining bastions of societal double standards, and discriminatory treatments — the lack of social-status granted to the children of our society. Of course there are developmental issues concerning children that serve to limit their full participation in this adult world of ours, but that fact doesn’t have a bearing on the unrelated circumstance involving equal protections under the law.

There is certainly no reason why we cannot at least begin to talk about granting children the same protection from violent treatment that we adults enjoy. As defined by the law of the land, a husband who spanks his wife against her will is guilty of spousal abuse, assault and battery, and/or domestic violence. These laws have been designed to deter the violence-prone husband from physically disciplining his wife, and to serve as a means to further safeguard her well being in the future. Let us take yet another step forward by offering children the same level of protection from violence that we provide for adults. After all, such an added protection granted to children would provide us with yet another reason to feel encouraged about our continuing efforts toward social progress, as we become a society possessing a greater degree of social sophistication.

A Note To Spanking Mothers
You want equality in your relationship with your husband, of course. You don’t feel it would be acceptable for him to spank you for disobeying him or making repeated mistakes just because he is bigger and stronger than you are.

I totally agree with you. But, given this circumstance, I would like to ask, “What makes you more susceptible to being abused than a child?” You can state that you don’t deserve to be hit, but so would any child. That’s not much of an argument. You can say that the relationship you have with your husband is “different.” But, no loving relationship is “different” when it comes to treating a loved one in a violent manner. You can say that you are responsible for your kids as a justification for hitting them, just as I can take the position that a man is responsible for his wife and should, therefore, have the right to “keep her in line”; to discourage her from embarrassing him in public; and to teach her to stop making the same mistakes all of the time. For every excuse you can state as a justification for hitting kids, I can counter with the same type of chauvinistic excuses for men hitting their wives as a means of discipline (as many husbands once did and, sadly, some still do).

The difference is that you are “abused” if you get spanked against your will, while your children are not. I’m simply asking what is it that makes you think that you are better than a child, and therefore deserving of more respectful treatment. Is it because you think that a spanking would be more harmful to you than it would be to a child?

Just as you moms would like to be legally protected from the threat of physical and emotional harm at the hand of a bullying husband, so should your children be protected in the same manner from the hand of a bullying parent.

A Note To Spanking Fathers
Traditionally, it has been the male species that has been most guilty of denying basic human rights to those viewed as smaller and weaker. We men have practiced the philosophy of “might makes right” from the beginnings of known history. Perhaps we’ve come a long way from our knuckle dragging, cavemen ancestors. But men, it’s time we evolved further beyond such atavistic tendencies. We’ve already evolved beyond corporal punishment as a routine means of controlling law-breakers and women. Let’s take the next step-up in our level of humanity by also putting behind us the corporal punishment of children as well.

We know from countless testimony (which young children are ill-equipped to provide) that all adults are emotionally harmed by threats or acts of violence to varying degrees, regardless of whether physical injury has occurred. The sad irony here is that young children are much more vulnerable to suffering emotional damage as the result of assaultive acts (including threats) than are we adults.

The Ins and Outs of Double Standards and Discriminatory Treatments
For those of you who may not be aware, a double-standard involves holding a different gender, ethnic group, race, religious group, or age group, in lower regard than the one with which an individual identifies themselves as being a part. These societal groups of “less worthy”, “inferior”, “unsavory”, looked-down upon segments of humanity have historically been the victims of unfair and discriminatory practices by the majority, the ruling class, and/or those in power. Our human past is filled with examples of various social groups being treated with a double standard within their particular society at large. And even though we can safely say that the existence of these double-standards have diminished over time, we have not yet evolved to the point of social sophistication that would have us putting an end to all unjust double-standards. Women, and especially wives, have been the victims of one of the most enduring double standards of all time, and still suffer expressions of this unjust, prejudicial attitude toward them by men in many parts of the world. With the women of our culture now being generally granted the same respect, consideration, and protections that men have traditionally demanded for themselves, children stand as the last remaining segment of our society being acceptably victimized by a double standard in terms of legal protections from the threat of physical and emotional violence. In this regard especially, children are being denied their basic human rights.We should remain ever mindful that it has been a relatively short time in our history since wives were legally beaten with switches. But, they were not being beaten as far as their husbands were concerned; they were simply being disciplined. The language that was then used as a reflection of a double standard toward wives is the same language parents now use in describing the treatment of their children under a double standard. Men had a different language to describe such a treatment of themselves; they called it Assault and Battery.It’s not quite enough to ask parents to stop spanking their children without them first experiencing a change in attitude toward child rearing. If children were to remain being held to a double-standard, we would see less physical injury occurring to children as the result of eliminating the practice of spanking. However, we would still see the ravages of emotional damage occurring to children as the result of being held to a double-standard of treatment. The continued existence of this double standard would continue to see children being treated with disrespect in the form of disregard, dismissal, insensitivity, and harsh regard.If we are to consider children a part of humanity, it’s time we brought them into the fold by starting to consider the possibility that our young might be even more susceptible to the emotional harm of being treated with disrespect than we adults.The overriding issue at hand here concerns the fact that all adults, even including the most vicious of incarcerated criminals, are legally protected from physical punishments as a disciplinary practice, while children are left excluded from such legal protections. This discriminatory inequity is the reflection of a prejudice against minor children on a societal level. It is a prejudice known as Ageism.

Ageism is just as difficult a social issue to overcome as the bigotry of Misogyny or Racism because these behaviors represent the same behavioral characteristics (an irrational, misguided, and misinformed prejudice against others). While the targets of prejudicial intolerance might differ, the basis for group prejudices remains the same. The male chauvinist views his wife as a sexually objectified possession who is also seen through an attitude which dictates that the wife is held in lower regard than his male peers. The basis for the problem lies with this type of man possessing a superior attitude toward women. The racist views the targeted group as being inferior and is assigned to a lower social-status, which is rationalized as justifiable.

I should reiterate here that throughout history, the rationalizations used as excuses for physical discipline have been basically the same for slaves, women, and children alike. Typically, these excuses have included striking the offenders for defiance, disobedience or safety issues.

The elimination of the group prejudice presents a formidable challenge. We need to find ways by which we can effectively instill a raised understanding, a higher level of consciousness, and an increased level of empathy. This is difficult because those who harbor these prejudices are seldom individuals who feel a burning desire to change their existing attitudes toward those they regard as inferior human beings. In addition, these prejudices commonly represent deep-seated orientations that were instilled during their early formative years. This is a developmental stage where learned behavior is subject to manifest itself as deeply ingrained beliefs. Such perceptions are also referred to as bigotry. We should strive to progress beyond the inhumanity of socially accepted Ageism in the same way that we’ve already progressed beyond the inhumanity of socially accepted Racism and Misogyny. Given this, I support the notion that children should be afforded the same societal protections from violence as are enjoyed by the rest of society. After all, it’s simply a position calling for basic human rights for all of us.

James C. Talbot (March 2010)
author of The Road to Positive Discipline: A Parents Guide

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